Over the last decade, most modern addiction treatment programs have incorporated one or more alternative therapies to their curriculums. One of the most effective and widely used alternative modalities is adventure therapy. As the name indicates, adventure therapy lets participants take on a wide range of outdoor “adventures,” all of which have an element of risk and excitement.
What is Adventure Therapy?
Adventure therapy, which is a form of eco-psychology, gives recovering addicts an opportunity to get back to nature and… explore their innermost thoughts…
Eco-psychology is a relatively new field of psychology that explores the human relationship with nature. It is based on the premise that people have a bond with nature, one that is similar to the bonds shared between family members. As our reliance on technology has grown, our relationship with nature has dwindled. Adventure therapy, which is a form of eco-psychology, gives recovering addicts an opportunity to get back to nature and, more importantly, get back to explore their innermost thoughts, feelings, and ideas through stimulating activities.
Adventure therapy encompasses many aspects of eco-psychology. It brings the natural world into the recovery process and creates opportunities for direct contact with nature. Some of the most popular adventure therapy activities include:
- Mindful Sensory Awareness
- Animal-Human Bonding (i.e. equine therapy)
- Wilderness Retreats
- Ropes Courses
- Sweat Lodge
- Art Therapy
- Trust-Building Exercises
- Rock Climbing
- Whitewater Rafting
How Does Adventure Therapy Help During Recovery?
Adventure therapy allows recovering addicts to learn new skills, discover a world of “safe” risk-taking, and address their fears by taking on challenges that demand inner strength. The adventures are exciting; they provide an all-natural boost of endorphins – something most recovering addicts haven’t felt in a long time.
Psychologically, adventure therapy improves self-esteem, teaches team building skills, develops coping and decision-making skills, builds trust, reduces anxiety, and decreases depression. These adventure therapy benefits, combined with natural mood-boosting qualities, can work wonders in every stage of recovery.
But Does Adventure Therapy Work?
While numerous studies have shown the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in the great outdoors, scientists from Japan wanted to know if nature can affect the cells and neurons of a human brain. Led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki from the University of Chiba and Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, the research group utilized field tests, hormone analysis, and new brain-imaging technology.
Since the study began in 2004, more than 600 research participants have been evaluated before and after taking a leisurely walk through a wooded forest. When compared to walks in an urban setting, researchers found that walking in a wooded area produces:
- A 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol
- A seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity
- A 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure
- A 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate
- Better moods and lower anxiety
In addition to the detailed Japanese study, research has shown that nature can help humans in various other areas of life. Formal studies on this topic include:
- A 2005 study conducted by the School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia reports that people living near parks or wilderness areas enjoy a longer lifespan.
- A 2010 study published in The Harvard News Letter shows that spending time outdoors helps patients heal faster and experience less pain. Subsequently, decreased pain levels cut down on the amount of pain medication needed.
- A 2009 study conducted by Researchers for the Future reports that spending time in the great outdoors can reduce blood pressure, bring cholesterol levels down, and dramatically reduce acute levels of stress.
Adventure therapy has seen wonderful success in a rehab setting. Experts say it works because the activities strengthen all five senses and boost the physical/emotional experience of nature. For recovering addicts, conquering fear in a tranquil and natural environment dramatically increases the odds of achieving long-term sobriety.
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